A friend I respect, assured me that Christianity is a very violent religion. He told me why he thinks this. Here I’ll consider his reasons for thinking Christianity is violent – and also some other reasons I’m aware of.
1 There are Bible texts advocating violence
He claimed that just as good Christians don’t believe the violent texts in the Bible, good Muslims don’t believe the violent texts in the Koran either.
He apparently didn’t realise that true Christians aim to follow the teachings of Christ, and these are found in the second part of the Bible – the New Testament. There are no texts advocating violence in the New Testament.
He might have been thinking of the instructions to the Israelites in the first part of the Bible – the Old Testament – to destroy their enemies, forgetting that these instructions don’t apply to Christians.
So why is the Old Testament in the Christian Bible at all? It’s included because it contains many prophecies about Jesus Christ the coming Messiah, “The Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6). Also, Jesus frequently quoted from the Old Testament. We’re told that it was “written for our learning” (Rom.15:4). We can learn from both the good things and the bad things described in the Old Testament. However, the Christian’s guidance for living does not come from the Old Testament.
The stern Old Testament Law has been superseded in the New Testament by the wonderful freedom of God’s amazing grace! We’re now “heirs of grace” (Tit.3:7, 1Pet.3:7b).
Jesus said, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Mat.5:44, Luk.6:27,35). That’s hardly advocating violence!
On another occasion He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mat.5:9).
Jesus also said, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Mat.5:38-39 also Luke 6:29).
When one of Jesus’ followers tried to defend him with a sword, Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mat.26:52).
Nevertheless, Jesus knew that the time would come when many people would hate those who follow his teaching of peace. His followers would suffer terrible persecution – sometimes from members of their own family. He warned them of this when he said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household.” (Mat.10:34-36).
There’s a great deal of violence described in Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, however this is prophetic and not prescriptive. Violence is not encouraged.
Christianity spread rapidly during the first few centuries after Christ – despite extreme persecution against Christian believers resulting in countless deaths.
Jesus didn’t lead any armies or order their use. This is in stark contrast to Islam, which was spread by Muhammad’s armies. The conquered peoples had to convert to Islam or die.
In the space of a single decade Muhammad fought eight major battles and led eighteen raids. He also planned another thirty-eight military operations where others were in command but operating under his orders and strategic direction.
2 The Crusades were violent
Yes, they were. The First Roman Catholic Crusade of 1096 was ordered by Pope Urban II to conquer the Holy Land. Those who served were given “indulgences,” supposedly to reduce their time in “Purgatory.” It’s said that the Roman Catholic Crusader armies massacred over 75% of all the Jews in Europe as well as uncounted numbers of Muslims in the Holy Land.
The Second Roman Catholic Crusade of 1147 was announced by Pope Eugene III. Subsequent Crusades to the Holy Land continued until 1291. The Roman Catholic Popes later attempted to extend their power by sending Crusading armies into other countries.
In 1588 the Spanish Armada – with the blessing of Pope Sixtus V – attempted to spearhead the invasion of Britain. Effectively the Roman Catholic church was the militant wing of a pseudo-Christianity.
Did the Crusades prove that Christianity is violent? Not at all. Neither the Popes nor the Catholic crusading armies were following the teachings of Christ in the Bible. Christ never taught that warfare should be used to spread Christianity. Additionally, there’s no Biblical basis for Purgatory, for the sale of “indulgences” – or even for the Papacy itself.
3 The Inquisition was violent
Yes, it was extremely violent. The Inquisition was set up by the Roman Catholic Church to root out and punish non-Catholics throughout Europe and the Americas. Beginning in the 12th century and continuing for hundreds of years, the Inquisition is infamous for the severity of its tortures. Its worst manifestation was in Spain where the Spanish Inquisition was a dominant force for more than 200 years, resulting in over 30,000 executions. Most of these executions were preceded by extreme torture.
Nowhere does the Bible teach that people should be tortured and executed for their faith. Once again, the Roman Catholic church brought shame to Christendom by rejecting the teachings of Christ.
4 The Irish “troubles” were violent
The Irish “troubles” were very violent, but they were primarily political, fought by those who did – and did not – want to remain in the UK. The Nationalist IRA fighters were mostly from Catholic areas and the Unionist fighters from Protestant areas. Few of the fighters regularly attended any church, and most Irish people were appalled by the fighting. The “new” or “real” IRA is still active in 2019. Those involved in the bombings and other violence were – and are – blatantly ignoring the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Lindsay Smith, July 2019